We've lived in the house for 3+ years and recently gave our 30 day notice. The property manager sent a letter with cleaning instructions, most of which look reasonable. But the letter says that we have to have the carpets professionally cleaned and provide a receipt. We have our own steam cleaner and have been cleaning the carpets ourselves with it, and were planning to do this again prior to move out. Can the landlord require us to pay someone else to return the house to the same condition they rented it in when we can do the work ourselves? If we clean it ourselves, can we use photo & video documentation in small claims court to prove that the carpets are just as clean as when we moved in and recover the deposit they withhold because we didn't pay someone else to clean the carpets?
Ah yes, I forgot to mention, I did review the lease agreement on this issue. No mention of any requirement to professionally clean carpets. Just lots of detailed instructions on keeping the place clean, and not only have we been vacuuming like they asked, but also using our steam cleaner.
First, if you are not in a rent controlled area, you need to look at your original written lease agreement.
Assuming there is nothing in your lease agreement on this issue, then the answer would be -- you do not have to hire a professional to steam clean the carpets, and yes you can use photos and video documentation to prove the carpets were clean (minus normal wear and tear -- which is permissable and not subject to a deduction from your security deposit). Be sure to send the landlord a demand letter citing the below mentioned California codes and bring that to court with you too.
As to your security deposit....
California Civil Code Section 1950.5 governs security deposits in the state of California, but if your rental unit is under rent control you may have additional protections beyond those stated in this article.
California Civil Code Section 1950.5 only permits a landlord to use a tenant's security deposit to pay for the costs of: (1) unpaid rent; (2) cleaning the rental unit after you vacate (but only to what it was before you moved in) ; (3) repairing damage caused by the tenant that goes beyond normal wear and tear; and (4) if provided in the lease, replacing keys, laundry cards, garage openers, etc. If a tenant returns the rental in substantially the same condition in which it was rented (less reasonable wear and tear), the landlord must return the entire security deposit. A landlord cannot deduct for painting, or steam cleaning or replacing the carpets, unless there was serious damage. Take lots of pictures.
California Civil Code Section 1950.5(g)(2) requires all California landlords to return a tenant's security deposit within 21 days of move-out either in full, or partially. If any deductions are taken from the tenant's security deposit, the partial refund check must be accompanied by: (1) a written itemized statement that lists the amounts deducted from the security deposit and the reasons for the deductions, and (2) if the deduction exceeds $126, copies of receipts for the charges incurred to repair or clean the unit.
If the security deposit is not returned within 21 days, if the tenant disagrees with the amounts deducted, or if the tenant did not receive an itemization accompanied by receipts, the tenant should send a letter to the landlord via certified mail return receipt requested. If the landlord does not respond within a reasonable time, the tenant should then file a claim in Small Claims Court for the actual security deposit withheld and statutory damages of two times that amount pursuant to California Civil Code 1950(i). Consider meeting with an attorney prior to filing for advice on preparation and presentation of your claim.
Disclaimer. Ms. Marsh is a real estate attorney licensed to practice in California. The information posted above is for general information, does not constitute professional legal advice, and does not create an attorney client relationship. Ms. Marsh strongly advises the questioner to consult with an attorney to thoroughly review his or her particular circumstances and for advice tailored to his or her specific circumstances.